A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 191 – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail – September 7th, 2010

After our long weekend of epic movies we needed something short tonight. It’s not just that we wanted a break, but it’s that I had a late shift so we needed one that would be over in time for us to write reviews. But we also wanted something lighthearted and silly. I didn’t mean to pick something with any of the same flavor as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I stopped at this on our list despite the presence of knights and swordfighting. Granted, this is Monty Python and therefore a ridiculous movie in every respect. Still, there is a good deal of swordfighting and death. Oh well.

Raised as I was on a steady cultural diet of British television shown by any PBS affiliate that we could pull in with our second floor antenna, I did see a good amount of Monty Python when I was younger. I don’t think I was technically allowed to watch it until I was a little on the older side, but some got through anyhow. It’s hard to avoid entirely, you know. In amongst the Doctor Who, To the Manor Born and Fawlty Towers I got enough Python to go seeking out the movies when we went to rent something for the weekends. For some reason this one was never my first choice and I saw The Meaning of Life several times before moving on to Holy Grail. But then, like any good little geekling, I dutifully memorized the vast majority of the movie, absorbing it into my lexicon of quotations and references.

It’s been a while since I last saw this, to be honest. I’ve seen it so many times I usually just figure I might as well put in something else I don’t know so well. But because of that I’d also come to assume that I was recalling all the good bits and leaving other slower bits out. I mean, I know there are movies I have memorized and I didn’t think this was one of them. Not entirely. Except really, every scene of this movie is quotable. Every bit they do, every gag, every episode, they’re all memorable. There really aren’t many down moments. I think it’s that the story’s not quite linear. It’s a bunch of Arthurian-based Python sketches strung together in a vague storyline. The point isn’t really the story. It’s the jokes.

I suppose it helps to know the basic gist of the stories of King Arthur. I know them because of a night spent reading a book of Arthurian legends instead of sleeping. King Arthur and the Round Table and all that do play right into my fascination with the end of eras and things passing into memory. So okay, there’s all the serious stuff, and now here’s Graham Chapman pretending to ride around with no horse. Just Terry Gilliam with a rucksack and a couple of coconut halves. And it’s not like the movie sticks too closely to the legends. I don’t recall mention of shrubbery in the legends I’ve read, and I’m pretty sure there were no debates about swallows or holy hand grenades. And yet there they are!

It’s very tempting to go referencing every funny moment in the movie, but as I said, they’re all funny. That’s why the movie is so entrenched in the pop cultural lexicon now. From my high school friends calling the Enchanter card in Magic the Gathering ‘Tim’ (anyone else do that?) to the coconut gag. I’ve even found a translation of the French taunting into Klingon (“yIH ghaH SoSlI’e’ ‘ej He’ vavlI’ ‘ej tera’nganpu’ rur” which, according to where I found it, should translate to “Your mother was a tribble and your father smelt of humans”) and then there’s the brilliant Knights of the Round Table/Star Trek fanvid. Even if you don’t like this movie you probably know a reference to it, whether you know it or not. It’s ubiquitous. I like that in a geek culture icon.


September 7, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

September 7, 2010

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I’m glad we watched almost two hundred movies before we got to this one because I have for many years been all Holy Grailed out. As I’ve mentioned before I was raised on Monty Python and this movie was a favorite of mine from the very first time I saw it. I was in the habit of quoting vast sections of the movie way back before it was clear to me that all nerds quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail to each other. Indeed at one point I spent an afternoon transcribing a complete script for the movie, playing my VHS tape of it and pausing it every few seconds to write down every single word. It has long been an irritant to me when people mis-quote the film.

As a result of having pretty much memorized the film way back in my high school days I haven’t felt much of a need to see it again in a long while. It was actually fun to see it tonight as part f our movie project because I found myself thinking about the movie more than I have when watching it before.

This movie came about during the peak of the success of the Monty Python television series. Indeed some rejected bits from the script ended up in the somewhat lackluster final season of the show (the season without John Cleese.) As such it has the feel of a some of the more high-concept episodes where there is an over-arching plot that ties all the sketches together. (Such as the bicycling tour of Cornwall or the Sir Frances Drake episode.) It’s still very much sketch comedy, but all of the bits are related to each other in that they take place in the same medieval time period and feature many of the same characters. As a fan of Terry Gilliam I enjoyed seeing this again since I could see the seed of his directorial style here. (Many scenes share a sort of tonal feel with Time Bandits, for example. I see hints of the Evil Mastermind in Tim the Enchanter.) It makes me look forward to watching Gilliam’s first post-Python movie: The Jabberwocky, which we do have in our collection.

What’s astonishing about this movie, and what makes it so powerfully quotable, is that every single sketch is a gem. From the opening argument over the coconuts (which of course is the most instantly identifiable running gag in the movie and is probably the first thing anybody mentions when trying to describe it) to the abrupt end to the film there is not a single scene that doesn’t work perfectly. Really, you would think that just the law of averages would dictate that there should be some jokes that fall flat somewhere in the film, but if there is I can’t think of it.

There are so many bits from this movie that have made it not just into the realm of oft quoted lines for me and my wife but have become part of the general lexicon of modern humor. “Huge… tracts of land.” “Bring out your dead.” “It’s only a flesh wound.” “It’s only a model.” These are references I have seen outside of the context of Python. I’ll never forget the episode of the Simpsons where Homer goes to college and his nerdish roommates are all quoting from this movie. It was as though the writers from the Simpsons had filmed part of the interaction in my old high school AV club – and it was at that moment that I realized that it wasn’t just me and my friends who quoted this movie. Everybody who has ever seen it quotes it. It is inevitable.

(The most obscure reference to the movie I can think of, and one that has stuck with me for decades, is that the old Bard’s Tale game on the Amiga and Atari ST used a sample of the self-flagellating monks when you visited a priest to be healed. It makes me want to play the game again just thinking of it.)

It has been years since I watched this movie, but I still felt tonight as though I could recite it from memory. I loved seeing all the little bits of the film that charmed me back in the day (such as Sir Bedevere tying a coconut to a bird just before the witch burning scene.) Little gags that I only noticed after repeated viewings. This movie is imprinted upon my very consciousness, but it was still fun to watch it again tonight.

September 7, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments